Vanessa LeBourdais of DreamRider Productions Society

Vanessa LeBourdais
Executive director and creative lead, DreamRider Productions Society

Living in Tofino back in 1990, Vanessa LeBourdais rented a house with a rainforest in the backyard. Without warning, her landlady clear-cut it. “She literally turned it into a parking lot,” LeBourdais remembers. “I realized that was happening all over the world, and that sparked my environmental consciousness.”

The Toronto native, whose ambitions lay in musical theatre, became a lead organizer of the seminal movement to protect Clayoquot Sound, getting arrested and writing protest songs. She later met Ian Gschwind, who founded DreamRider Productions Society with her when the City of Vancouver asked them to write a play for children about water conservation. “That also gave us our weird business model of selling theatre to cities,” LeBourdais says of the 1998 production and other long-running enviro-educational shows, which went on to reach 50,000 elementary school students a year throughout the Lower Mainland.

Vancouver-based DreamRider has also scaled its offerings, which use comedy and catchy songs to help kids learn, by going digital. Planet Protector Academy, launched in 2013, gamifies environmental conservation by casting children as apprentice superheroes who collaborate on missions. So far, the 10-member DreamRider team has delivered its programs to more than a million kids in some 350 Canadian cities, and to audiences in 11 other countries. 

The message sticks: 90 percent of children taking part in the shows influence their families to be more environmentally responsible. Half of participating families change their driving habits, 70 percent curb energy use, and 60 percent reduce waste. “We use digital media to create a transformational space in which kids feel possibility and hope,” LeBourdais says.